Material fictions: Readers and texuality in the British novel, 1814--1852
Hasell, Duncan Ingraham
Patten, Robert L.
Doctor of Philosophy
I argue in the first chapter that the British novel's material textuality, that is the physical features of the texts that carry semantic weight and the multiple forms in which texts are created and distributed, often challenges and subverts present conceptions of the cultural roles of the novel in the nineteenth century. My project looks at how the multiple forms of the novel within nineteenth-century Britain both reflected and sought to change the relations between the novel and its readers. I suggest that different material instantiations of a literary work reveal historical contingencies that are unrecoverable from any one edition by itself. I consider the ways that the material characteristics of the physical document such as paper, size, and typeface, its mode of production, and other materialities, such as price and print run size constrain reading. While no reading is totally constrained by the text, every text represents possible uses of the written word in which we can recognize the constraints or discipline that these texts seek to exercise on their readers. The remaining chapters are a series of case studies that analyze how material textuality affects our understanding of Walter Scott's Waverley, Frederick Marryat's Peter Simple, and W. M. Thackeray's History of Henry Esmond .